Panthertown Valley is one of the most spectacular areas in the southeast with cascading waterfalls, trout streams, panoramic views, sheer granite cliffs, the headwaters of the Tuckaseegee River and the east fork of Little Tennessee River, and biologically diverse habitats for wildlife and rare plant species. Because of its outstanding geologic formations, forests, streams and native plant life, Panthertown is designated as a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area natural heritage site and by The Wilderness Society as one of North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures. Thirty miles of backcountry trails in Panthertown Valley are open to hikers. Many of those trails also allow mountain biking and equestrian activities.
Panthertown is comprised of over 10,000 acres of protected public land in Nantahala National Forest and contains Panthertown Valley, Bonas Defeat, and Big Pisgah (located in Pisgah National Forest). Panthertown lies on the eastern continental divide in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Panthertown Valley, often referred to as “the Yosemite of the East”, is a popular 6,295 acre backcountry recreation area within the complex. Panthertown has thirty miles of U.S. Forest Service designated trails in the Nantahala National Forest. Visitors can enjoy deep gorges and broad valleys, mountain bogs and granitic rock domes, tranquil creeks and plunging waterfalls.
Hikers are free to explore the many trails and footpaths in Panthertown. Mountain bikers and equestrians are asked to please follow appropriate trail designations.
Hiking is the primary activity of visitors to Panthertown. Hikers are encouraged to use a map and compass so as not to get lost. There are literally hundreds of miles of unmarked trails, footpaths, rock hops, and old logging roads that traverse Panthertown. Only the official Panthertown Trails System as designated by the U.S. Forest Service is maintained by Friends of Panthertown. This trail system consists of 30 miles of hiking and mixed-use designated trails. Guide services are required to have a permit with U.S. Forest Service. No mountain bikes or horses are allowed on hike-only designated trails.
Mountain bikers may ride on bike designated trails in Panthertown and on all U.S. Forest Service gated service roads throughout the National Forest. U.S. Forest Service rules prohibit ALL COMMERCIAL mountain bike outfitters and guides in Panthertown.
Equestrians and their horses are allowed in Panthertown only on horse designated trails. No commercial operations are permitted. U.S. Forest Service rules prohibit ALL COMMERCIAL horseback riding and guided trips. No horse trailer parking is available at Cold Mountain Gap entrance.
Overnight backcountry camping is allowed in Panthertown. No permits are required. Groups are limited to no more than 12 people per site. No camping within 50 feet of streams or rivers in Panthertown Valley.
Fishing in Panthertown is managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission under the “Wild Trout Waters, catch and release, single hook, artificial lures only” classification and a valid NC fishing license is required.
Panthertown Valley is protected as part of the Panthertown-Bonas Defeat bear sanctuary. No bear hunting of any kind is permitted in Panthertown.
Forest Service prohibits ALL COMMERCIAL horse back riding trips or mountain bike outfitter/guides in Panthertown Valley. No commercial horse back or mountain biking trips are permitted.
A Brief History of Panthertown:
Panthertown is part of the Roy Taylor National Forest.
Panthertown Valley has changed “ownership” many times throughout its history. The valley was logged in the 1920s and 1930s by the Moltz Lumber Company, and was then sold in the 1960s to Liberty Properties who had plans to convert the valley into a resort. The Blue Ridge Parkway also had plans for a route through the valley. When those plans fell through, Duke Power Company purchased the land in order to construct a large electrical transmission line spanning the valley’s width. In 1989, the North Carolina Chapter of the Nature Conservancy purchased all but Duke’s right-of-way for $8 million as an addition to Nantahala National Forest. Today Panthertown is managed by the U.S. Forest Service with funding and volunteers provided by Friends of Panthertown.
In 2009, working with Friends of Panthertown to gather public input, the U.S. Forest Service Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins signed a decision memo concerning the Panthertown Valley Trail Project. A trail system map was released and trail uses were designated for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Download USFS Panthertown Trail Project Decision Memo (3.3MB PDF).
This 6,295 acre back-country area in the Nantahala National Forest offers visitors a wide variety of places to explore and has become a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, rock climbers, anglers, school groups, summer camps, scout troops, ornithologists, etc.
A network of trails and old logging roads lead to waterfalls, bogs, and spectacular overlooks of the valley and its cliff faces. Be aware that a number of visitors get lost in the area each year because trails are unmarked; therefore, visitors are advised to bring a map and compass.
Due to increased popularity in recent years, the trails and fragile ecosystem has sustained significant damage and many people have gotten lost because trails are not marked. Therefore, the Friends of Panthertown are working with the Forest Service to establish a more sustainable trail system for multiple users by marking trails, designating trails for appropriate recreational uses, developing a trail map, and educating users about appropriate recreational uses and leave-no-trace ethics.
The most rugged gorges in the valley escaped logging and contain some old growth trees and there are many ecologically sensitive areas and rare communities of plants that thrive within the valley. Visitors can lessen their impact by staying on designated trails. Rare ferns, mosses, and liverworts that grow in the wet micro-climates around waterfalls are easily disturbed. For this reason, visitors are encouraged to view the falls from a distance.
Climate: Spring and Fall temperatures typically range from the 40′s-60′s. Summer temperatures range from the 50′s-80′s. Winter temperatures range in the 20′s-40′s.
Directions to Salt Rock (west entrance):
Approximately 1.5 miles east of Cashiers on US 64, turn north (left coming from Cashiers, right coming from Sapphire/Lake Toxaway) on Cedar Creek Road (SR 1120). Continue on Cedar Creek Road for 2.2 miles and bear right (northeast) on Breedlove Road (SR 1121). There is a Forest Service sign here that indicates Panthertown Access. Drive 3.3 miles to the end of Breedlove Road until the pavement ends and turns to gravel. Continue ¼ mile on the Forest Service gravel road that leads to the Salt Rock trail-head parking area. Drive very slowly as this road has many dips and pot holes. [Note: Parking is limited along the gravel road, so visitors are advised to park their cars on the pavement just before the gravel road begins and hike in.]
Directions to Cold Mountain (east entrance):
From US 64, take NC 281 0.7 miles north. Go past the Lake Toxaway fire station (coming from US 64 this will be on your right). Turn left (north) on Cold Mountain Road and continue 6.0 miles. When the road ends (Canaan Land, a private development, will be straight ahead) bear left on a gravel road (there is a Forest Service sign here that indicates Panthertown Access). Then turn right on the first gravel road to reach the trail-head parking area. (If you miss the turn you’ll end up in a residential development.) Parking is very limited along this road.
Remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles when visiting Panthertown Valley.
Leave No Trace Seven Principles:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
For more information:
Nantahala National Forest
Nantahala Ranger District
90 Sloan Road
Franklin, NC 28734
Here are some trail sharing etiquette links:
Links to Others Sites with Information About Panthertown:
Return to Friends of Panthertown MAIN PAGE
“Protecting and maintaining Panthertown Valley”